Ludwig Wittgenstein: Final Years

BackgroundThe Early YearsCambridgeNorwayFirst World WarTractatus and TeachingArchitectReturn to CambridgeIn Russia and Norway etc.Professor of PhilosophyFinal Years



1948

Wittgenstein stayed on in Ireland, first of all in a farmhouse in Red Cross, in County Wicklow, where he began the manuscript volume MS 137, Band ‘R’.

Kilpatrick House in Wicklow, Ireland

Kilpatrick House in Wicklow, Ireland

Soon, however, the house was too noisy for him, and he moved to Rosro, to Drury’s lonely holiday cottage on the west coast of Ireland, in Connemara. He stayed there several months and continued work on Band ‘R’. Tommy Mulkerrins, a servant of the Drurys, whom Maurice Drury was supposed to have told that Wittgenstein was suffering from a nervous breakdown, looked after him.

In the autumn Wittgenstein travelled to Austria for the first time since the end of the war. His sister Hermine was ill with cancer.

In October he travelled back to Cambridge, where in three weeks he revised the manuscript volumes MSS 135, 136 and 137 and continued dictating typescript 232. Having travelled back to Ireland, where he lived again in Ross’s Hotel, he continued his work on Band ‘R’. In December, Rush Rhees visited him. Wittgenstein drew up his first will, making, as he wrote to Moore on 31 December, Rhees and Burnaby of Trinity his executors.

1949

Still in Ross’s Hotel. Wittgenstein completed Band ‘R’, noting 15 January as the date on which he changed to manuscript volume MS 138. This volume, together with the second half of volume R, was in large part published as Last Writings on the Philosophy of Psychology, Oxford 1982.

In April Wittgenstein travelled to Vienna, where his sister Hermine was dying. In May he was briefly in Dublin again, and in June in Cambridge as the guest of his friend Georg Henrik von Wright, his successor in the chair of Philosophy.

In July and August Wittgenstein undertook a journey to America, to his friend and pupil Norman Malcolm in Ithaca in New York State. His health was very poor. He had not been able to work properly since March. In Ithaca he had to go into hospital, and he was afraid, not of illness or death, but that an operation will prevent him from returning to Europe: I don’t want to die in America. I am a European - I want to die in Europe, ... What a fool I was to come. (Norman Malcolm, A Memoir, Oxford 1984). The hospital’s diagnosis gave no grounds for serious anxiety, and he was able to return to England in October. There he again sought medical attention, and his doctor, Dr. Edward Bevan, diagnosed cancer. Wittgenstein continued his work with MS 144, which was largely a copy and revision of the second part of the Philosophische Untersuchungen, and with notebooks MS 169, 170 and 171, and he continued dictating typescript 234, the last version of so-called part II of the Philosophische Untersuchungen. This typescript was unfortunately lost, along with that of part I of the work, when the Philosophical Investigations was being type-set in 1953.

In December Wittgenstein travelled to his family in Vienna, staying there until the end of March.

1950

At the beginning of April, Wittgenstein returned to Cambridge, again as the guest of G. H. von Wright. He then went briefly to London, to his friend Rush Rhees. In April he moved to Oxford, to his pupil Elizabeth Anscombe. At this time he was working on the notebooks MSS 172, 173, 174, and started on 23 September with MS 175.

In the autumn he travelled with his young friend Ben Richards to Norway for five weeks, with the intention of settling there permanently. On 13 November, however, in view of his illness, he took leave of Norway for good, having years previously given his cabin in Skjolden to a friend, Arne Bolstad.

The House in Norway

The House in Norway

On 27 November he moved into the house of Dr. Bevan, his doctor in Cambridge, whom he got to know through his friend Drury.

He spent Christmas again with his family in the Alleegasse.

1951

On 29 January Wittgenstein made a new will in Oxford. He made Rush Rhees his executor and his friends Rush Rhees, G. E. M. Anscombe and G. H. von Wright adminsitrators of his literary estate.

On 8 February Wittgenstein was back in Cambridge, with Dr. Bevan, continuing his work on MS 175, and starting MS 176 on 21 March. The manuscripts 172 to 177 were for the most part published. Part I of Remarks on Colours, Oxford 1977, came from manuscript 176, Part II from MS 172, and Part III from MS 173. In the volume On Certainty, Oxford 1970, comments 1 to 65 came from MS 173, 66 to 192 from MS 174, 193 to 299 from MS 173 and 300 to 676 from the MSS 176 and 177.

On 25 April Wittgenstein began work on the last manuscript, MS 177. The last entry is dated 27 April:

If someone believes that he has flown from America to England in the last few days, then, I believe, he cannot be making a mistake.

And just the same if someone says that he is at this moment sitting at a table and writing.

But even if in such cases I can’t be mistaken, isn’t it possible that I am drugged?” If I am and if the drug has taken away my consciousness, then I am not now really talking and thinking. I cannot seriously suppose that I am at this moment dreaming. Someone who, dreaming, says “I am dreaming", even if he speaks audibly in doing so, is no more right than if he said in his dream “it is raining", while it was in fact raining. Even if his dream were actually connected with the noise of the rain.

On the evening of 28 April, Wittgenstein loses consciousness. He dies the following morning, 29 April 1951.

The numbering of the manuscripts follows that of the papers left by Wittgenstein in: G. H. von Wright, The Wittgenstein Papers., 1969.

The Last Manuscript-Entry

The Last Manuscript-Entry

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